Mike Zunino, Catcher, Seattle Mariners
2014 season (Majors): 131 G, 438 AB, .199 BA, 22 HR, 60 RBI, 0 SB, .658 OPS
Mike Zunino’s first full season with the Mariners was an intriguing one, as the young catcher showed off some of the skills that prompted Seattle to take him third overall in the 2012 draft. But he also showed a lot of his inexperience and a continued lack of plate discipline over the course of 131 games.
Now entering his third official season in the bigs with close to 700 Major League plate appearances under his belt, the time is now for Zunino to put it all together and become a more complete hitter on a Mariners squad looking to make a strong push in 2015.
Zunino didn’t spend much time in the Minor Leagues, putting up a slash line of .360/.447/.689 between three levels after he was drafted in 2012. He was then called up in June of ‘13 and finished with disappointing numbers across the board over two stints in the bigs.
Nonetheless, he stuck with the M’s last season and was a stable force defensively behind the plate while mashing 22 homers, which was tied for third most among catchers with Buster Posey and Evan Gattis (Devin Mesoraco led all catchers with 25, and just six eclipsed the 20-homer mark).
Zunino was one of the top defensive catchers in the league last season, and he threw out the fifth most runners in the league (28) while leading his staff to an American League-best 3.17 ERA. It would be one thing if Zunino could hit homers but was subpar behind the plate, but his defense is not something that concerns the Mariners.
What Seattle would like to see from Zunino is increased plate discipline, something that was a major focus this offseason and during Spring Training. The 24-year-old catcher worked on his two-strike approach and overall discipline, which produced a poor .199 average and .254 OBP last season. He swung at too many pitches out of the zone (39.7 percent) and swung and missed at strikes way too much (17.8 SwStr%).
While Spring Training numbers always need to be taken with a grain of salt, there’s no doubt that Zunino put his new approach to work this spring. While leading all catchers with 19 games played, Zunino put up a .353/.431/.882 slash line with six doubles, 14 RBIs and seven homers (second only to Cubs phenom Kris Bryant’s nine, with about 1/1000th the fanfare).
With 207 strikeouts in 183 career games, it’s obvious Zunino has had a very aggressive approach thus far in the bigs. But if his work this spring is any indication, he’s ready to take that next step, stop hacking and put up consistent numbers across the board. A less aggressive approach shouldn’t result in a big dip in power, either, as he was one of just three hitters in the bigs last year whose ISO (isolated power) was higher than his average. As long as he doesn’t fall into bad habits should he get off to a slow start, Zunino looks ready to help lead the Mariners back into the playoffs and beyond.